We’ve written about a few American Gins over the past year, but with the burgeoning craft distilling scene gaining momentum in the US, and with it most crucially the overall quality of the products being released by these micro-distillers much improved, expect to see many more. One American Gin that came to our attention recently, was Pinckney Bend Gin.
Ralph Hayes, the owner, and distiller of Pinckney Bend (and according to Feast Magazine, a St Louis based food and culture website – “a graying man with a mustache that could rival Tom Selleck’s”), was kind enough to get in touch with us and talk through the gin.
Made 50 gallons at a time, Pinckney Bend Gin is distilled from American Grain. The nine botanicals include juniper berries, coriander seeds, orris root, angelica, licorice, and three different kinds of dried citrus (based on taste and a bit of poking around – we’re going with sweet and bitter orange as well as lemon peels but this is unconfirmed). All the botanicals used are certified organic and American-sourced. Looking at the region around them, it’s easy to see why the team opted for local produce – Missouri remains one of America’s great farming states and the variety, quality and availability of botanicals on offer is a distinct advantage over others trying to source locally in other areas of the world (think about the team from the Blackwood’s dredging around the Shetlands as a comparison!).
Ralph Haynes explained the decision to limit the number of botanicals. “If you load them up, things can become muddled,” he said. “Our goal was to create a gin that merged the dominant juniper more gracefully with citrus, to create crisp layers of flavour, without losing focus.”
The botanicals are distilled individually and then blended in batches. Some are macerated and distilled, while others are suspended in the vapor column. This intriguing multi-method way of extracting the flavour out of the botanicals is an insight into the level of detail and attention to quality that Ralph and the team have. It would be easier to distill all the botanicals in the same way, but doing so wouldn’t do each of them justice. Some require maceration and to then be added to a pot still to get the adequate pungent, almost oily notes whilst others need a bit more of a delicate vapour infusing to extract the correct amount of lighter compounds and esters. That’s without considering the varying boiling points, hearts window, concentration of oils being different in each batch as the botanicals vary from season, what quantity they are needed in and what role they each play in the overall ensemble.
Interestingly, the spirit they use is a Midwestern-grown corn (maze) and not grain like many UK gins. This base gives a slightly creamy base of which the botanicals play on. The different choice in base spirit is not all that surprising however, when one considers the 3 man Pinckney team have been brewing together for 15 years and between them, have accrued a mountain of knowledge about grains corns and what they produce once fermented.
This may be a small part of the overall appeal of Pinckney Bend Gin, but for us, it’s hard to overstate how great it is to see that they have really made the best possible use out of doing things on a micro scale. Many craft distillers only inherit the name because the volume they turn over each year is tiny, but Ralph earns this title by really taking advantage of the opportunities that are available when the scale of production is so small. Having a smaller sized operation means that there is so much more room to experiment and combine the best of the various techniques – compared to when each run involves a 300 gallon batch. It’s also easy to see why it took the team about two years to zero in the flaour profile and learn all the processing techniques to assure batch-to-batch consistency.
Flavour wise; at 46.5%ABV there is a distinct heat on the nose, perhaps more prominent than other high proof gins. Whilst we didn’t find it off-putting, you are not left with any doubts that there is strong alcohol in the glass and it’s a bit of a shame that it suggests something a little more brutal than what it actually tastes like. Overall, Pinckney Bend Gin is a classic example of an American Gin. Citrus forward, juniper backbone, clean finish. We’ve always made our sentiments clear that we feel many American gins take the balance of all botanicals too far and all too often the juniper is drowned out leaving behind an eau de vie rather than a gin, but this is not the case here. The juniper is fresh and clear, just not dominant on the palate and only reveals itself at a later stage rather than upfront as it does in more traditional London Dry’s. For fans of the more citrussy gins this is one for you but for those (like us here at The Gin Blog HQ), who prefer more earthy gins with a good lashing of juniper, it’s not that far out of the flavour wheel to be a non-starter, although we’d recommend holding off the garnish come G&T time. The high ABV makes Pinckney Bend an interesting Gin to try in a Martini too.
The label has a map of the Pinckney area, reputedly a navigational hazard well known to generations Missouri River boatmen. Located at mile marker 83 above St. Louis, it is the site of a once-thriving town long since disappeared, and a stretch of river where at least five 19th century steamboats were wrecked. The local history is nicely written up on the brand’s website and combined with this new(ish) wave of Craft distillers in the Mid West, it really gives a sense of the adventure, heritage and a time honored pioneering spirit that seems to embody team at Artisan Spirits. We’ve not been to see the distillery, but both through the stories and legacy of the area – as well as through the flavours of the gin – we expect it to be punchy, daring and on the edge of what we’re comfortable with set to a backdrop of a deeply conventional town. Something of a beckon for those non-conformists amongst us.
Pinckney Bend Gin was awarded gold medals at both the 2011 MicroLiquor Spirits Competition in Los Angeles and more recently in 2012 the San Fransico International Spirits Competition which will both help to raise the profile of the gin and the distillery to a wider audience. Combined with appointing St. Louis-based ‘A. Bommarito Wines’ to distribute its products in Missouri and 10 surrounding states in which Bommarito operates in, things are looking bright for Pinckney Bend. It may not be that long since they sold their first first bottle (November 21, 2011) but we hope they can convert the success into a larger presence in the Gin world, and perhaps even into one of the success stories of this phenomenally exciting craft distilling movement happening in the US.
Pinckney Bend Gin is not available in the UK yet, but when it is – we’ll be the first to be shouting about it so keep your ears tuned for news.
For more information about Pinckney Bend Gin, please see their website:
You can find Ralph on Twitter here: